NEW YORK (Jul. 16)
David Duke is back on the political scene and making it clear that time has not moderated his views of Jews, blacks or immigrants.
So far, there has been little response from politicians or the organized Jewish community, nationally or in Louisiana, where the former Ku Klux Klan leader is making another bid for the U.S. Senate.
The race is wide open for the seat of Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, a moderate Democrat who is retiring. Duke is running against four others in the state’s Republican primary in September.
Six years ago, Johnston defeated Duke in a campaign that gained national attention.
In an appearance on the nationally televised Jerry Springer talk show that aired July 9, Duke said there are “different points of view” about whether the Holocaust occurred. He said the 6 million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis is “an exaggerated figure.”
“I wonder why, every day in our media, we constantly hear about the Jewish victims of that Holocaust but we don’t hear about the Christian victims of the Holocaust, of even greater numbers in Eastern Europe,” he said. “Sometimes I think there are political reasons for that.”
When Springer, who is Jewish and the child of Holocaust survivors, asked him to explain what he meant, Duke pointed to “the support of the State of Israel. I mean, as a United States senator, I want a foreign policy that’s in the interests of this country.”
Duke explained his view of the Holocaust by citing well-known Holocaust denier David Irving. “There was not a planned program of extermination. There were atrocities that took place, but it wasn’t a plan to exterminate the Jewish people from the face of the earth,” Duke said.
“There’s no way to know the truth unless you allow every point of view to be presented. And there’s a real effort in this society that we don’t allow Holocaust revisions to be presented.”
“And it’s like anything else — I mean the French Huguenots were very much oppressed, all right? But now we’ve learned that a lot of those Huguenots actually exaggerated some of that,” Duke said during the show.
Duke was elected to the Louisiana state Legislature and in 1990, ran as a Republican candidate for one of Louisiana’s Senate seats.
He garnered a surprisingly high 44 percent of the vote against the incumbent Johnston.
The Republican establishment at that time — at the national and local levels – – rejected Duke. But in this year’s contest, Duke found an ally in the Statehouse.
In late June, the Republican governor of Louisiana, Mike Foster, said he would back the winner of the Republican primary, even if it is Duke, in November’s election for the Senate seat. A few days later, after a great deal of negative publicity, Foster released a statement addressing his earlier view without specifically referring to Duke.
“I have not, do not and will not condone racism, anti-Semitism in any form, and I will not support anyone for any public office who promotes such,” Foster said. “I will make no further statement on this matter.”
The Jewish community both nationally and locally has so far been quiet on Duke’s renewed effort to get elected to the U.S. Senate. The Jewish Federation of Greater Baton Rouge, the state’s capital, has not taken a position.
The New Orleans Jewish Community Relations Council has not taken any action opposing Duke either, said Jill Goldwater, the CRC director.
There seems to be a single Jewish voice working against Duke from Louisiana’s Jewish community, that of Reform Rabbi Barry Weinstein, of Baton Rouge’s B’nai Israel Synagogue. “A lot of the Jewish people here can remember when the Klan was very active,” he said. “So now there’s a reluctance to stir the waters.”
The coalition of rabbis, priests and ministers who opposed Duke in his 1990 bid is now defunct and Weinstein said his efforts to mobilize fellow clergy have been met with apathy. “I would like there to have been a mass uprising but there has not been. There has been silence even from the black ministers,” he said.
“I’m just one little old rabbi in Baton Rouge, and I find us to be in a precarious time. What’s happening here is a barometer for where the nation is,” he said.
Weinstein is also concerned about the “close relationship” Foster has with Duke.
“When a sitting governor can flirt with a Nazi sympathizer then I say something’s wrong,” said Weinstein.
The governor’s press secretary, Marsanne Golsby, said Foster is not close with the racist candidate. “David Duke wishes they were close,” she said. “Duke calls the governor, the governor does not call Duke.”
When asked whether Foster takes Duke’s calls, she said he does “on very rare occasions.”
Their connection goes back to last year, when during Foster’s gubernatorial campaign, Duke gave him “a warm, quasi-official endorsement,” Weinstein said.
Weinstein and about 10 Jewish leaders met with Foster at that time. The candidate told them that he could not afford to alienate Duke’s supporters by distancing himself from the white supremacist but promised to do so once he was elected.
He has “violated his personal promise” by not doing so, Weinstein said.
The governor’s press secretary said that “it is not Gov. Foster’s style to attack anyone, period. The governor has chosen to let this issue rest and that’s about all I can say,” she said.
“The governor’s style is misunderstood by some people,” she added.